Halloween. Gotta love it. Costumes, candy and crisp, fall weather all come together for a lot of fun, with only a bit of pressure -- something that sets it apart from many other holidays. Depending on how old your kids are, all you have to do is help them with their costumes and find a pillowcase you don't mind being dragged around in the street behind your little goblin.
I loved the good old days, when my kids needed me to go with them on their rounds through the neighborhood. It was a good chance to say hello to the neighbors and, frankly, relive a little of my own childhood. It was so much fun, in fact, that my husband and I used to flip a coin over who would go with the kids and who had to stay at the house and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.
Although my being a Halloween tag-a-long ended a few years back, it was still hard last year when my youngest told me his trick-or-treating days were over. Another milestone passed. What hasn't ended for me, though, is making a delicious dinner before the doorbell starts ringing.
Back in the day, it was a chance for me to make sure my kids had something nutritious to eat before the candy came into the picture. Now it's just a nice way to start the evening.
A simple menu
What was most important years ago, when the kids needed help getting into their costumes, was to find a dinner that was easy, nourishing and wouldn't take much last-minute prep. Although it was a necessity then, it's still a good thing now, and using the slow cooker makes perfect sense.
Fall is when I drag my slow cooker out of hiding in the basement. It's the busy family's best friend and an ideal way to highlight one of my go-to combinations this time of year: pork and apples.
The mild, but flavorful nature of pork is the perfect foil for tart Granny Smith apples in this Slow Cooker Pork and Apple Stew. Using apple juice concentrate gives it an added apple note and a bit of sweetness, without drowning the stew in too much liquid, which is easy to do when you're using a slow cooker.
For this recipe, I'm dredging the seasoned pork in flour and browning it before cooking. I know there will be some that would prefer to skip this step and simply toss all the ingredients together in the slow cooker, but the caramelization that occurs in the browning gives the stew a deeper flavor, making the extra step worthwhile. I serve it with egg noodles or rice, but it's satisfying on its own, too.
For dessert? Just reach into your kids' pillowcases.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.